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Monday, January 30, 2012

Low-Fat Chocolate Pots de Creme

We had our good friends, Astrid and Roger over to the house for a tour of the new place.  It was a lovely visit and I made a French-inspired dinner on Saturday night -  salad with Dijon vinaigrette, roasted root vegetables of artichokes, fennel, baby zucchini and onions; strip steaks, boiled heritage potatoes.  We finished it off with a decadent dessert of chocolate pots de creme - made a bit less fattening thanks to a recipe from Cooking Light and tweaked in my Bicycle-Chef way - swapping out cream or half and half with non-fat evaporated milk and skim milks.  We always have the best visits and meals with Astrid and Roger, great wines and stimulating conversations.  I wanted to keep the meal simple but still have it be special.  Dinner was an easy and largely uninvolved affair - chopped the vegetables and tossed them into a 425 degree oven. While the potatoes boiled, I grilled the steaks on a grill pan for 5 minutes per side and finished them in the oven.  The only cooking labour was done the day before - as the chocolate puddings need to be cooked ahead of time and chilled at least 6 hours or over-night.  

This is a dessert that can be a week-night treat or made for a special occasion.  You can make this as inexpensively as you want or go all out and splurge on a great bar of super dark premium bittersweet chocolate.  I used pantry staples, Nestle Dark Morsels.  The chocolate pots de creme tasted rich and luscious and satisfied my chocolate sweet tooth.  Use good, fresh eggs.  I had a coupon for a free dozen Land O'Lake Eggs from FoodBuzz, my blog sponsor.  I like these eggs a lot, especially when I want to find eggs with a deep orange yolk and full-eggy flavor.  It can be hard to find great eggs in a supermarket that doesn't sell true farm fresh or organic eggs.  I think the Land O'Lake Eggs are the best purchase in the supermarket that aren't from a local farm. I swear the yolks are as orange as marigold petals and taste even better than some eggs I've dropped a five spot on from a locally sourced farmer at the local farmer's market. 

This is a basic custard.  Knowing that the eggs help set the liquid and that the melted chocolate will become solid again will help you understand how easy it is to make this!  You can use all skim or low-fat milk, or use a combination of fat-free evaporated milk for a slightly richer taste along with the skim or low-fat milk.  The original recipe (as seen at this link here) had 3/4 cups of sugar; I cut it down to 1/2 cup since the evaporated milk is a bit sweeter than regular milk (but not as sweet as sweetened condensed milk, so don't confuse them!); the chocolate chips are sweet enough too.  I don't have a food scale, I didn't exactly measure out 4 ounces of chocolate. I guessed and used 1/2 the 10 ounce bag of chocolate chips - which means I used about 5 ounces of chocolate.  Another good reason to have cut down the sugar.   Once you've mastered the recipe, experiment with other flavors by steeping in orange peel, coffee, or liqueurs into the milk- you name it!  

Low-Fat Chocolate Pots de Creme Ingredients:
  • 1 Can Non-Fat Evaporated Milk (about 12 ounces or 1 1/2 Cups)
  • 1 Cup Non-Fat Regular Milk
  • 1/2 Cup White Granulated Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Cocoa Powder
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Large Eggs - beaten
  • 4 to 5 ounces of Dark, Semi or Bitter Sweet Chocolate Chips or a Good, Dark Chocolate Bar - Chopped (use 65% to 72%)

Equipment: 
  • 8- 4 ounce ramekins or oven-proof demi-tasse cups or other 4 ounce oven-safe cups or bowls
  • 9 x 13 baking pan
  • Whisk
  • Measuring Cups & Spoons
  • Mixing bowls
  • 3 or 4 quart sauce pot

Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the ramekins or cups into a 9 by 13 baking pan; set aside.
  2. Heat water in a tea kettle for baking the chocolate pots in a water bath; keep the water at a simmer.
  3. Beat the two eggs and vanilla extract together lightly in a mixing bowl; set aside.
  4. In a 3 or 4 quart sauce pot, whisk together the non-fat evaporated milk, the skim milk, sugar, cocoa powder and salt and bring the mixture almost to a boil, whisking the mixture together to dissolve the sugar and cocoa powder.  Once the mixture resembles hot chocolate and everything is dissolved, remove from heat.
  5. Place the chocolate chips into a heat-safe mixing bowl.  Pour the hot cocoa and milk mixture over the chocolate chips and whisk to combine and melt the chocolate.  
  6. Slowly whisk 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture into the beaten eggs to temper them; whisk in another 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the eggs, then pour the tempered eggs into the remaining hot milk mixture, whisking thoroughly.  
  7. Ladle 1/4 cup of the mixture at a time into each of the ramekins until each is full, leaving about a 1/8 of an inch from the rim.  Fill all the ramekins/cups with the custard. Fill the baking pan with 1-inch of hot water.  Carefully place the filled baking pan into the center of the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the chocolate custards comes out clean. 
  8. Carefully remove the ramekins from their water bath, and cool each of them on a wire rack completely before refrigerating. Chill thoroughly, 6 hours or over-night before serving.  Makes 8 servings.  Each 4 ounce chocolate pot de creme is about 200 calories, with approximately 7.5 grams of fat.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cuban Black Beans and Coconut Infused Brown Rice

I've been on a bean kick for the past few weeks.  Must be the winter, I'm craving warm, slow cooked meals, comfort foods that are filling, hearty and healthy for you.  Last week I made my Vegetarian Red Beans with Okra and Brown Rice.  I kicked it up a notch by adding a bottle of Harpoon Hop Devil IPA to the cooking liquid and the results were extraordinary.  For the recipe, with the updated addition of the beer, click on this link here so you can make it too.  

This week I made a batch of Cuban Style Black Beans and served it over a coconut and cumin infused brown rice pilaf.  What makes them Cuban style is the use of black beans, adding in some oregano and the bay leaf for smokey flavor and then adding in a touch of rum for a final kick.  If you think about Mexican vs Cuban vs Spanish or any other Latin American Flavors, there are some repeat ingredients and somethings unique to each. The aromatics are all similar, onions, garlic, peppers.  The seasonings are somewhat similar, cumin, oregano, thyme.  Cuban cooking tends to be simpler and doesn't rely on the use of chilies for heat.  Cilantro is used in many cuisines, from Mexican to Thai, and Cuban cookery occasionally borrows this "soapy" tasting distinct herb.  My addition of lime juice, white vinegar and light rum are all classic flavor pairings that add a real zest and zing to the nearly finished dish.  Feel free to omit the rum if you don't or cannot have it.  The lime and vinegar are a must though.

The finished dish was equally good as my red beans and rice.  I think next week I'll be making Italian or Greek Style White Beans, so stay tuned.  This week's bean recipe which was created to serve 2 people with some left-overs (to make more, double the ingredients).  When we ate it for dinner at home, I served it with a side of turkey sausages for a bit of extra protein and fat.  It would be good with grilled or pan roasted chicken or even with shrimp.  For my work lunch, I'll stick to the pure vegan/vegetarian dish, allowing me to be kosher-safe and part-time vegetarian!

Cuban Black Beans Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Pound of Dried Black Beans - picked over and soaked for at least 2 hours to over-night
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegetable or Light Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Onion (about 1 1/2 Cups) - small dice
  • 2 Medium Red and Green Bell Peppers (about 2 cups total) - small dice
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Ground Cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon Dried Oregano
  • 1 /2 Tablespoon Dried Thyme
  • 1 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Cilantro or 1/4 Cup Fresh & Chopped Cilantro
  • 2 Dried Bay Leaves
  • 4 Cups Cold Water
  • 1/4 Cup Light or Golden Rum (optional, but it adds great flavor)
  • Juice of 1/2 Lime
  • 1 Teaspoon White Wine Vinegar
  • Heavy Bottomed 4 to 5 Quart Sauce Pot or Dutch Oven w/tight fitting lid
  • Salt - to taste after the beans are cooked
  • Onions, Red and Green Bell Peppers - julienne and sauteed for garnish (optional)
Directions:
  1. Pick over and soak the black beans in cold water at least 2 hours or over night.  Drain and rinse the beans.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the sauce pot or Dutch Oven over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Add in the diced onions and peppers and saute until the onions begin to take on a hint of colour and the peppers soften, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and saute another minute.
  3. Stir in the dried seasonings, cumin through ground black pepper, sauteing for 30 seconds to "bloom" the flavors; add in the bay leaves and 4 cups of cold water.  Bring the mixture to a rapid boil then immediately reduce the heat down to a low simmer. Cover pot, leaving a small crack open to allow the steam to evaporate; cook until the beans are tender and beginning to break down, about 2 to 3 hours.  Check the beans and stir them in the pot occasionally.  If the water is not evaporating or the beans are not soaking up the liquid, remove the lid to allow for more evaporation.  The beans should start to break down after 2 hours of slow simmering.  
  4. After the beans have been cooking for 2 hours or more, and the liquid level has reduced by nearly half, add in the juice of 1/2 of a lime, the vinegar, and if using, the rum.  Stir in the dried or fresh cilantro and cook down another hour.  
  5. Once the beans are cooked through and very tender, (the mixture should look mushy but still have some whole beans remaining) season to taste with salt and if needed, adjust the other seasonings - black pepper, cumin, oregano.  Remove the bay leaves and serve hot over rice and garnish with sauteed onions and peppers.  
  6. Makes 4 to 5 cups of Cuban Style beans and will serve 4 generously.  Double the recipe if you want to make a bigger batch.  The finished dish will freeze beautifully.  Keeps up to 5 days, tightly covered and refrigerated.
Coconut Infused Brown Rice Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 Cups Uncooked Brown Rice - medium or long grain - rinsed under cold water
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1/4 Cup Unsweetened Coconut  - flaked or shredded
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Ground Cumin
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano 
  • 2 2/3rds Cups Cold Water
Directions:
  1. Rinse the rice in a fine mesh strainer under cold running water. Shake off excess water and add to a 3 or 4 quart sauce pot with a tight fitting lid.
  2. Add in the bay leaves, coconut flakes, salt, cumin and oregano.  Pour in the cold water and bring the mixture to a boil.  Immediately lower the heat to a low simmer, cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes; check to see if the water is evaporating too quickly, if needed, add more water. 
  3. Once the rice appears to have absorbed all the water, remove from heat and let stand, covered for 10 minutes or up to a half hour.
  4. Fluff with a fork before serving and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Temple Foods: Tilapia, Steamed New Potatoes and Broccoli


This is what I call a Temple Food recipe using three basic ingredients. It can be made in under 30 minutes and you use just two cooking methods. It's a simple meal that tastes delicious and is very good for you.  I made the tilapia in the toaster oven while the red bliss potatoes were boiling/steaming and then steamed the broccoli in the same pot of water in which the potatoes cooked.  

My Temple Foods dinner is a meal consisting of three basic ingredients, meaning the starch, the protein and the vegetable, not counting oil, salt, pepper, seasonings for the fish and Dijon Mustard.  I consider those items pantry staples and all kitchens ought to have at least the minimum of those things.  Think you don't like boiled potatoes and steamed broccoli? That's because you haven't had them cooked right.  Most people over cook their vegetables, rendering the greens to a shade of drab olive grey and turning the potatoes to mush. These vegetables should and are sweet and crisp.  The delicious joy that is a simply steamed new potato with a slight drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper is a taste to behold.

Brush the tilapia with a little Dijon mustard.  It can be seasoned as simply as with salt, pepper and paprika - smoked, hot or sweet.  Or if you are a spice queen like me, you may have a fabulous seasoning blend like Penzey's Forward, a salt-free blend that's slightly smokey and rich.  For the oil all you need is a good classic, extra-virgin olive oil.  Something you want to taste but not so expensive you're afraid of using it.  Keep it simple and cook it quickly.  This is weeknight fare that can help you get back on track to healthier eating. I made enough to serve 4, but you can cut it back to make enough for 2 servings by reducing the ingredients down by half.

Tilapia, Boiled/Steamed Potatoes and Steamed Broccoli Ingredients:

  • 3 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 4 Tilapia Fillets
  • 2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon Paprika (or a salt-free spice blend of choice)
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste
  • 1 Pound - (about 4 small/medium potatoes per person) Red Bliss or New Potatoes - scrubbed clean
  • 1 Pound Broccoli Crowns - cut into small "branches"

Directions:

  1. Line a small sheet pan with aluminum foil.  Lay the tilapia fillets onto the prepared pan; brush the fillets with the Dijon mustard and season each tilapia fillet with the paprika, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Set aside.  If using a conventional oven and not a toaster oven, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Clean the potatoes and place them into a 4 quart sauce pan along with a generous pinch of salt.  Cover fill (with about 3-inches above the potatoes) with cold water.  Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and bring the water to a rapid boil.  When the water boils, remove the lid and cook for 10 minutes.  After 8 minutes, add in the chopped broccoli spears, or if you have a steamer, insert the steam over the pot and add the broccoli to the steamer. Let the water come back to a boil; cook for one minute more then drain the potatoes and the steamed broccoli.  Separate the potatoes from the broccoli, if desired.  Season with the olive oil, salt and pepper, tossing to combine.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, place the prepared tilapia fillets into either a preheated 375 degree oven or into a toaster oven set to 375 degrees.  Bake the tilapia for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the fillets turn opaque.  Remove from the oven, plate over the cooked potatoes that you've smashed down and seasoned with salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil and top with the broccoli. Season to taste, if necessary with a light sprinkle of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mango Chicken and Indian Style Coconut Basmati Brown Rice


I saw a recipe on Hungry Girl the other day and it got me to thinking about making a lower-fat, quick Indian-inspired recipes.  I love Indian food and there are several great places in Philly and Collingswood where I can get take-away.  However, Indian food, while tasty is not exactly diet friendly.  Most dishes are made with clarified butter (Ghee) and full-fat yogurt.  It's delicious but not good for my cholesterol or lower-fat life style.  I perused the Hungry Girl recipe and like with most of her recipes, I found it too full of faux ingredients or things that I just didn't want to buy.  I'm not going to buy mango syrup and I'm more into pumping up flavors using seasonings and flavorful liquids, like beer, wine or citrus juices.

Don't let the ingredient list scare you, this meal comes together very quickly, it's mostly about the prep.  I marinated the chicken while the rice cooked and I chopped the onions, peppers, garlic and other vegetables that I served on the side.  Total cooking time for the rice was longer than the Mango Chicken took to cook; all told, under 45 minutes for the entire meal.  The rice is so good, that it can be made as a side dish for dinner and then sweetened with honey and warmed milk (or non-fat condensed milk!) for dessert if you skip seasoning it with the salt and ground pepper!

Mango Chicken Ingredients:
  • 2 Tablespoons Light Olive or Vegetable Oil
  • 1-12 ounce bottle of a good IPA beer - like Harpoon IPA
  • 3 Tablespoons Curry Powder – Sweet and Mild or Spicy depending on your preference – divided into 2 Tablespoons and 1 Tablespoon
  • 8 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs
  • 1 Large Onion – Half moon slices (about 2 cups)
  • 2 Bell Peppers (Red/Green or Red/Yellow) – Julienned (about 2 Cups)
  • 3 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1 Mango – peeled, seeded - diced or 1 Cup Frozen Mango Chunks
  • Juice of 1 Lime - divided
  • 6 ounces Non-fat Plain Greek Yogurt (one container)
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper – to taste
  • ½ Cup Cilantro – rough chop - for garnish
  • ¼ Cup Cashews - chopped - for garnish
  • 2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Coconut Flakes - for garnish
Indian Style Basmati Brown Rice Ingredients:
  • 1 ½ Cups Uncooked Brown Basmati or Jasmine Rice
  • 4 Cardamom Pods
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 2 Whole Clove Seeds or 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Clove
  • 2 Whole Bay Leaves
  • ¼ Cup Unsweetened Shredded or Flaked Coconut
  • Pinch Salt
Marinade the chicken first, in beer, lime juice, curry powder,
salt and pepper; cook the rice and chop your vegetables.
Saute the Onions, Peppers, Garlic and Mango Chunks; add in curry powder
and then add in the beer and lime juice to reduce

Once the liquid has reduced by half, whisk or stir in the non-fat plain Greek Yogurt to create sauce

Add in the browned and cooked chicken with their juices, stir to combine and heat through.
Garnish with chopped cilantro, cashews and coconut flakes
  1. Start the rice cooking first, as it takes longer.  Rinse the rice in a fine mesh strainer under cold running water.  Shake off excess water and then place the rinsed rice into a 3 1/3 to 4 quart sauce pot with a tight fitting lid.  Add in the bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon stick, cloves and coconut flakes.  Cover the rice with 2 & 3/4ths cups cold water and add in a generous pinch of salt. Bring the rice to a rapid boil then reduce the heat to a the lowest setting and simmer until the water is all absorbed and the rice grains are tender and fluffy.  Remove from heat after 35 minutes; keep covered until ready to serve.  If all the water has not been absorbed, remove the lid and continue to gently simmer until the rice has absorbed all the water. Fluff with a fork before serving, remove the bay leaf, cardamon pods, cinnamon stick and cloves and season to taste with salt & pepper.
  2. Marinade the chicken thighs in 2 tablespoons of curry powder, salt, pepper, the juice of 1/2 of a lime and ½ cup of the IPA.  Let sit, covered for 15 minutes, or marinate over-night for deeper flavor.
  3. When ready to cook, preheat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Remove the chicken from the marinade and sauté the chicken in the pan, searing on both sides until the chicken is browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. When the chicken in cooked through and no trace of pink remains, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside on a plate and cover lightly.
  4. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pan in which you browned the chicken and sauté the onions and peppers until they are tender and beginning to caramelize – about 10 minutes.
  5.  Add in the garlic and mango chunks and sauté another minute. Add in the remaining tablespoon of curry powder, sauté for 30 seconds.  Deglaze the pan by adding in the rest of the lime juice and the remaining IPA beer; scrap up the browned bits in the pan with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.  Bring this mixture to a boil and reduce the liquid in the pan by half.
  6. Once the liquid reduces down, lower heat and whisk in the non-fat plain Greek-style yogurt. Season the mixture to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the chicken back to the pan, along with any accumulated juices, stirring to combine and cover the chicken. Heat through for 1 to 3 minutes; taste and adjust seasonings and sprinkle in half of the chopped cilantro, stir to combine.
  7. Serve hot over the Basmati Brown Rice and garnish with the remaining cilantro and chopped cashews and coconut flakes.  Makes  4 Servings. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A look back at 2011

I love the annual year in review.  I look forward to the TODAY SHOW's yearly recap of the host/ anchor's antics and CBS Sunday Morning's Remembrance of the Stars and Famous who have passed on.  It's a chance to reflect and smile, sometimes laugh or shed a needed tear. After the end of a year, whether it be good, bad or indifferent you have some psychological distance to be objective and assess what worked and what didn't.  We all want that clean slate on the start of the new day of the new year, especially if the previous one was terrible, like so many of us did at the end of 2010.  2011 for me and the family was pretty fantastic.  Looking forward to the Leap Year of 2012 makes me excited for all the new possibilities in store for us.  A shout out to a blog I follow,  All and Sundry, aka SundryMouring, where this idea originated. Here's my annual recap of the year,  I bring you, 2011, The Year that was...
1. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?  Bought a house and moved out of state!  We owned the house we lived in for 9 years in South Philly, but I DIDN'T own it, Liz did.  When we purchased Moore Street, I was still at The Restaurant School and had little to no income and my credit wasn't great.  We lucked out that we purchased it when we did, before the markets got crazy out of control pricey and then bottomed out.  We were dumb lucky, didn't refinance to get ourselves in any financial trouble and consequently were in a good position to sell the house.  This enabled us to think big and take a big step forward to moving to a small town, close to the City, easy to commute to and from and giving us  more space.  My name is on this mortgage and I'm now a resident of the State of New Jersey.  Finally, this South Philly Girl has moved up in the world!
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? As I say each year, I don't do resolutions.  I wanted to be a calmer, less reactionary person and I suppose I am slowly reaching that goal.  I wanted to continue to keep healthy, eating and exercising and I did.  I'm not as fit as I was in 2009 but someday I will be again.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth? YEP! There were a number of new babies born in our friends lives and we almost had a new nephew born in the closing moments of 2011 - he came into the world on 1/2/2012 instead.  In 2011 we welcomed Anderson, little brother to Callum. 
4. Did anyone close to you die? Yes.  My grandmother, Faye, died on August 24, 2011.  This was the closest death I experienced this year.  I spend a great deal of time with her from the Fall of 2010 until her death.  I haven't written about her death though I've contemplated many things I wanted to say.  Faye was my step-grandmother, married to my Poppy.  She lived until she was 91.  This last year of her life was not a good year, I watched her physically fade away while her mind stayed mostly sharp.  Faye was a feisty, fiery, strong lady, sort of like an R-Rated version of Lucille Ball.  She cursed every day and could make a sailor, truck driver and gangsta blush with her use of the word f*ck!  Those last days with her and her last lucid words and conversation with me were to tell everyone if we didn't like what she had to say and what she wanted, to tell them to go f8ck themselves.  When I asked her if this is how she wanted me to remember her and to tell people what she said, she said, "Yeah, F^ck 'em!"  God Bless you Faye for being the only relative I had who truly loved me and who even gave a damn.


Our dog, Hamlet, also died in 2011.  He lived to be 15 1/2 years old and I was in his life since he was 3 years old.  Hamlet was a true Alpha Dog, aggressive until his last days.  He was diagnosed with some form of lymphoma over 4 years ago and was given 6 months to a year to live; he last three more.  When Nate was born, a friend remarked that he might move on once he knew he wasn't needed any longer.  Damn dog lived 2 more years!  The last year was marked by a rapid decline and by summer we knew his time was coming to an end.  For a long while I felt that he and my grandmother's lives were linked.  They were, in my mind.  I was convinced that once one went the other would go soon too. It didn't quite happen that way, the both lingered on for a while.  We finally had to make the choice to put Hamlet down.  He was skin and bones, had no energy and his quality of life was minimal.  Two people made astute comments about his well-being; Liz's grandfather, Grandpa Bill, raised dogs and ran a kennel.  He asked Liz how much worse did we want him (Hamlet) to get? Our friend, Roberta, who works at the University of Pennsylvania Animal Hospital and is a teacher and animal pathologist, told us that with his near-blindness, possible dementia and other host of problems that living in a new home would be upsetting to him where he didn't know his way around.  Plus she said it was a decision we would have to make, as the dog wouldn't just lay down and die peacefully.  Once we heard that, we knew it was time.  That old dog managed to make his last days count.  He caught a mouse in the Moore Street house during the last week we lived there! Blind, barely able to walk, eat or move, he caught a mouse! Thanks Hamlet! You went out with the same spunk you in which you lived your life!
5. What countries did you visit? I really need to change this to States.  We went to Staten Island a lot during 2011.  To some New Yorkers, Staten Island might as well be another country! Parts of it are like a Little Russia, Little Italy or a Little Caribbean Island.  We took a fun driving vacation for a week, visiting Liz's dad and family in the Lehigh Valley area, visited a local farm and lots of candy shops.  During this same week, we drove to Hackettstown, NJ to visit Liz's college roommate and her family, along with more candy shops!  We stopped off in Staten Island for a few days with Liz's mom and step-dad.  We took our annual Down-the-Shore Family Vacation in Sea Isle/Strathmere New Jersey, creating what we hope will be a new extended family vacation tradition.  
6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011? Focus.  A new car (maybe even a Ford Focus!) I find I get easily distracted and would prefer to play, bike, blog than do house work, work-work, or anything that one has to do.
7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 
The biggest and best ones are these in order of importance: 
October 24th - The day our house on Moore Street Sold for sure.  Once the house inspection and all the issues that came up were resolved we knew we could finish packing and move forward with buying our Collingswood, New Jersey home.  
December 17th - The day my best friend, Rachel got engaged to her long-term beau, Jim.  Someone remarked that getting married a bit later in life means you skipped passed your first marriage and divorce and get to go straight to the marriage that will last!
November 30th - The day we got the keys to the Collingswood house.
October 22nd - We attended 2 weddings in one day.  One was for our friends, Kate and her partner Meghan.  We were honored to be invited and to witness the commitment of these two young women.  The other wedding was for my friends Sue and Aaron, the originator of the SueCrew Biking Team.  This is another wedding of two people who were smart enough to miss the first young marriage and get to the real good stuff in our "Adult" years.  
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? There were quite a few! Buying the Collingswood House.  It's much larger and more grown-up and finished. We have a garage and parking!
KODAKGallery.com picked my food photo portfolio and photos to use on their website for a project and I was the featured FaceBook Photographer of the week.  I was paid in flattery and $20 bucks for a few of my best food photos.  I received over 500 hits on the blog from my being the featured photographer of the day!
My biking story, road to wellville and an healthy breakfast recipe were featured as a guest blogger post on The BicyclingHub.com blog.
After only living in Collingswood for 2 weeks, a video and blog post I created about the Annual Collingswood Christmas Light Parade of Trucks was featured on the CollingswoodPatch.com website.
My favorite Street Artists and graffiti artists who's work I document gave me original works of their art as gifts.  Meeting these guys was one of the highlights of my year and validated my photographic endeavors.  
9. What was your biggest failure? Not writing more.  I have so many ideas and I wish I had the time to devote to writing more of my "stories."  In the new year, I'll be writing the darker tales of my life on another blog that I'm creating, called The Onion Girl.  Stay tuned for details!
10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Not really but I'm not as fit as I once was.  I've had a minor, nothing health scare which propelled me to finally get to all of my doctors, from my head to my toes.  
11. What was the best thing you bought? See #8!  Or Nate's wagon that he got for Christmas.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration? My friends and the family who I've picked to be mine.  Thanks to this wonderful circle of people with whom I've been blessed I have acceptance, love and support.
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Very much the same as in 2010 - Politicians, more so this year since so little changed and our Country is in such a mess.  My mother - once again she disappointed me not so much because I expected anything from her but because she is still M.I.A. and nuts.  There's a story there, but I'll save it for another blog.
14. Where did most of your money go? To moving expenses, tolls, commuting expenses and all the related costs to buying a new house.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? New furniture.  We bought a new living room set for the new house - large sleeper sectional, large chair w/ottoman, storage ottoman unit for the couch and accent table.  We were also blessed with many gifts for the new house, the biggest of which was indoor/outdoor all-weather wicker porch furniture that the previous owner of our house left for us.  It was a substantial cost and she was beyond gracious and generous in leaving it for us, not telling us at closing so as to not appear self-serving.  She's a real top gun star for that act!
16. What song will always remind you of 2011?  It's a Great Day by the Fresh Beat Band (see #37 for full answer!)
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? happier
b) thinner or fatter? a wee bit fatter - well, maybe more than a wee bit.  Certainly a lot flabbier and pouchier.
c) richer or poorer? hmmm, both? I make a bit more but it costs a lot more to live.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Told people that I loved them; biked and exercised more; did more writing.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Eating.
20. How did you spend Christmas? Another lovely Christmas Eve at Church doing our annual church family gathering. There for the marathon sessions of services, dinner, and services.  Nate and I were in the nursery from about 8:30 pm until after midnight.  It was quiet again, not as cold as the previous year (I found the thermostat!) and peaceful. Christmas Day we visited with Liz's Dad and wife, siblings, nephew and aunt.  We had a crazy loud and fun time.  Boxing Day we had a lot of people to the house, most of whom had not seen the new place yet.  It was loud, boisterous, merry and gay - in all ways!
21. Did you fall in love in 2011? I've been in love with Liz for over 12 years and with Nate for the past 2.  Like the Grinch, my heart grows two sizes bigger each year.
22. What was your favorite TV program? Boardwalk Empire, Leverage, Luther.
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Not really.  I still loathe the Republican and Tea Parties.  I hate the unions because they don't help their members.


24. What was the best book you read? I still don't read much and I used to love to read.  I waste too much time on Facebook reading status updates.  I've started reading the New Yorker again though.
25. What was your greatest musical discovery? I'm more out of touch with popular music this year than ever.  Maybe Robyn - many of my facebook friends seem to love her and she sounded good on SNL.
26. What did you want and get? A new house!
27. What did you want and not get? A car.
28. What was your favorite film of this year? We didn't see one movie in the theaters.  I can barely remember renting or streaming much.  Harry Potter part 7B?  It was good.  
29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 44 this year and I cannot remember what I did!  I think it was a low-key year.  We went to dinner to a local pub, it was all forgettable.
30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Not having to stress about time.  I felt as though I never had enough time in a day, week or month.  Towards the end of the year, from October and all of November I felt as though we were never going to get Moore Street packed and ready to go.  We did it and I still cannot believe we survived the move!
31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011? Making do with what I already have.  Shopping my closet and accessorizing with scarves and jackets!
32. What kept you sane? Biking and Nate's laugh
33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Kelly McGillis, she's an inspiration and classy lady.
34. What political issue stirred you the most? The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and all of the latest posturing on Gay Marriage issues and abortion.  These are not the problems in our Country.  These are not the real reasons why we are such an economic and moral mess.  It's just easier to blame our problems on these issues because if fires up the ultra religious and conservatives and takes the focus away from  doing real work to solving America's core issues.
35. Who did you miss? I miss my grandmother, Faye.  She was my last connection to my grandfather and the last of the good part of the family.
36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011: Anything is possible.  Liz believes that great things can and should happen, all you have to do is work to make it so.  I never thought we'd actually get ourselves together to clean out the old house, declutter it, and pack up the basement to get it ready for sale.  It was possible and it happened. I also never imagined we would find the home of our dreams but we did.  We looked, we believed and we made it happen.
37. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.  We have watched a lot of NICK Jr. this year with Nate.  Our programs of choice are either Curious George or Yo Gabba Gabba and not much else.  Sometimes if we have Yo Gabba Gabba on and the show ends, the Fresh Beat Band will be on before or after and there's a song that is in almost every episode called, Great Day.  Nate started singing/humming it one day, out of nowhere.  It was around the time he started to say more words.  Hearing the song, hearing him respond to it and like it was an incredibly special day and I love the song even more.  It's catchy, it's got a good beat, and yes, you can dance to it!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pappadelle Pasta with Italian Tuna, Tomatoes and Feta

Years ago my grandmother told me about having Italian tuna over pasta with tomatoes.  I remember at first thinking this sound insane, until I tried it.  The combination of tuna fish in olive oil over hot pasta with good Italian tomatoes and garlic is a fantastic taste sensation.  It's a classic Italian dish that I've had many times here and in Italy.  Over the years I've varied this idea, incorporating whatever I have on hand for a very quick, satisfying and fairly inexpensive meal.  It's good enough to serve to guests for dinner and easy enough to make as a week night meal.  Of course you can change out the ingredients to suit your tastes.  For this dish I used Trader Joe's Lemon Pepper Pappadelle Pasta, fresh string beans, capers, chick peas/cecci beans, diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, Italian tuna in olive oil and feta cheese.  It's really not that many ingredients and it can be cut back even more - by using diced tomatoes that are already seasoned.  Try it, you'll like it!

Pappadelle Pasta with Italian Tuna, Tomatoes and Feta Ingredients:

  • 1 Package (about 12 ounces) of uncooked Pappadelle Pasta - cooked to package directions
  • 1/2 Pound Fresh String Beans - cleaned and cut in half
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Small Onion - Julienned
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - Minced
  • 1 Cup Cecci/Chick Peas - drained and rinsed
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Italian Seasonings
  • 1 Can (about 14 ounces) Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Capers
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • Italian Tuna in Olive Oil - drained of the oil
  • 1/4 Cup Feta Cheese for Garnish

Directions:

  1. Bring a large stock pot of salted water to a rapid boil.  While waiting for the water to boil, clean, trim and cut the strings beans, set them aside. Once the water is boiling, put the dried pasta into the water.  About 4 minutes before the pasta is cooked through, add in the cleaned string beans.  When the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving a cup of the pasta cooking water.  Add the pasta and string beans back to the pasta pot, cover and keep warm
  2. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer;  add in the julienned onions and saute until the onions are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add in the garlic and saute another minute.
  3. Next add in the cecci beans and stir to combine with the onions and garlic.  Stir in the dried Italian seasonings and saute for 30 seconds before adding in the diced tomatoes with their juices and the capers.  Bring the mixture to a boil to heat through, then simmer for 5 minutes to tighten the sauce.  
  4. Pour this over the cooked and warmed pasta/string beans and gently toss to coat the pasta, along with the drained Italian Tuna in olive oil.  Season with freshly ground black pepper.  
  5. Sprinkle the feta cheese over each pasta dish after plating it.  Serves 4 generously.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

3 in 1: Roasted Butternut Squash; Salmon with Dijon Mustard Crust and Roasted Brussel Spouts

My step-mother-in-law and friend, Paula, made a wonderful Christmas dinner for the family this year - Heritage Bird Roast Turkey, fresh from the farm, brined and roasted to perfection; her famous Herron Family Sweet Potatoes, cooked in a gallon of molasses and a pound of butter (!); roasted brussel sprouts with chestnuts and a roasted butternut squash with wilted spinach, craisins and chestnuts.  I was taken with all the food choices and was especially intrigued by the butternut squash.  I love finding new and simple ways to make vegetables, especially when you can make a large batch and have each bite be as interesting as the last.  I wrote a brief recipe description of it on my Christmas In Collingswood post last week - today I'm expanding upon it and adding a few more recipes to the mix too.  

For my first "clean" and healthy meal of the New Year, I made my favorite salmon dish - roasted salmon fillets with a Dijon Mustard crust and herbs; roasted shredded brussel sprouts and roasted butternut squash, done in my own style, using what I had on hand.  I set the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and made the most of using the oven by cooking a lot of stuff so we would be set for a few days - maximizing the heat and time for optimal cooking efficiency.  

Roasted Salmon with Dijon Mustard Crust:  The salmon is one of my old standbys - I usually buy a bag of frozen fillets from Wegmans - 6 to a package and under $14 - so that's around $2.25 per serving.  It's the best frozen salmon I've ever had and I would venture to say it's almost better than a lot of fresh I've had.  It defrosts quickly in the sink - in under 20 minutes, so thawing time is never and issue.

  • I usually roast it on a sheet tray lined with a Silpat or tin foil.  
  • I spread about a tablespoon of Dijon Mustard on each fillet and top it with fresh or dried herbs - or a sprinkling of Mexican/Barbecue or some other zesty and smokey salt-free seasoning.  
  • If I'm feeling a bit more decadent, I'll top the salmon and Dijon with chopped nuts, almonds, cashews or pistachio.  Gives you a bit more protein and good omega fats.  
  • No salt and no oil - the fish is fine w/out it.  
  • Roast at 375 to 423 degrees for 12 minutes - 15 if you want it a bit more done.  Boom! It's done.  

Shredded & Roasted Brussel Sprouts Ingredients:

  • 1 Pound Brussel Sprouts - cleaned, bottoms cut off and each sprout cut in half
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Line a sheet tray with tin foil - set aside
  3. Cleaned the brussel sprouts, remove the tough bottom core and any brown and spotted outer leaves.  Cut each brussel sprout in half, then thinly slice each half into half-moon or julienned slices, until you have a pile of brussel sprout ribbons or "confetti"; add to a large mixing bowl and continue cutting until all the brussel sprouts are cut and julienned.
  4. Toss in a large mixing with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with a few grinds of black pepper and a generous pinch of Kosher Salt.  
  5. Roast in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then stir the brussel sprouts and rotate the pan.  Put back into the oven and roast for another 15 minutes.  Stir the sprouts again, and roast for up to another 15 minutes or until all the ribbons of brussel sprouts are crispy and beginning to char.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot immediately. 
  6. These are addictive - as good as Kale Chips.
Roasted Butternut Squash with Spinach and Craisins Ingredients:
  • 1 Pound Butternut Squash - peeled, seeded and chopped into 1 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 Medium Onion - large dice
  • 1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1 Teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper or Chipotle Pepper
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Cup Frozen Spinach - thawed, drained and warmed through
  • 1/4 Cup Craisins
  • 1/4 Cup Almonds - chopped, slivered or sliced
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Line a sheet tray with tin foil - set aside
  3. Clean, peel and seed the butternut squash and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks.  Place into a large mixing bowl and toss with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the seasonings- smoked paprika, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne or chipotle pepper, pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper.  Toss to combine and then place the butternut squash onto the prepared sheet tray, spreading out to an even layer.  Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally; roast until the squash is tender and slightly caramelized. 
  4. Remove from oven and carefully add to a mixing bowl.  Stir in the thawed and warmed spinach, craisins and chopped almonds (or nuts of choice such as cashews, walnuts or pecans).  Fresh spinach can also be used. I using fresh spinach leaves, clean them, remove tough stems and toss the spinach into the roasted squash; the residual heat will wilt the spinach leaves.  
  5. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.